Winner: Best Salads
How did it feel to be voted "Best Salads"—again?
We have won this award every year since we opened in 2007. It is gratifying to win for something so important to our business. Salads account for 60 percent of our sales.
What makes your salads so popular?
We found a niche: build your own salad. We have signature salads and have doubled the number of those since opening, but people love building their own salads. We started with 30 ingredients and seven salad dressings; we now have 70 ingredients and 14 dressings. Building your own salad is unique and empowering. You can't complain about the salad if you built it yourself. Some people carefully create their salads; some just throw everything in the bowl. Men especially throw all kinds of things in their salads, and they love it. I'm ringing them up and thinking, "You don't have to throw everything in there." Women are more deliberate.
Why did you choose the fast casual dining style?
I have an aversion to servers—and I used to be a server. But a server can make or break your meal. I'd rather the focus be on the food. Food doesn't necessarily have to be an outing. Three-hour meals are for special occasions. And we want the food to be affordable. The salmon is $10.99, and everything else is under $10. That's almost unheard of. It's been a painstaking process. I negotiate directly with purveyors to get the best food at the best price.
Did you go to culinary school?
I went to Western Culinary School in Portland, Ore. And then the school of hard knocks. I've been all over the world. I was director of restaurants at the Ritz-Carlton in Maui. I came back here because my family is here, and I had a dream. You get to the point where you don't want to work for anyone else. Your creativity comes out when you're in control.
Where do you get your ideas?
I have an idea every day. The E'zza was inspired by a trip to Paris where everyone was eating quiche, and I'm from Chicago where we think of deep-dish pizza. So I had the idea of serving an individual-size quiche in a deep-dish crust—an egg pizza. We call it the E'zza. It's portable; you can grab it and go. It's now one of the top 10 things we sell. Breakfast is important to Trio. We serve "weekend food every day of the week." You can have Eggs Benedict on a Monday morning.
What keeps you going?
I live and breathe the restaurant world. The way I love it radiates down. The hours are long, but there's instant gratification. I recognize people and know they're repeats. Or they tell you they like something. I love downtown. There had to be a huge draw to keep me here. When I was on Maui, I used to look out my window and see baby whales. Now this is my view—Market Square. I love it. It gives me energy.
What's next for Trio?
I want to create a "living wall" outside with plants and flowers growing out of it. I saw this on a museum wall in Paris. I want to incorporate the beauty of the seasons outdoors. Market Square is basically a concrete block. I'd like to make it greener. A second Trio is in the works locally, but the location is top secret. The goal is countrywide. Where there's a Panera, I want there to be a Trio. Another goal is to have the best burger in town. We're ready to take on Litton's.
Did you just challenge Litton's to a burger duel?